Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Month: December 2016 Page 1 of 2

Dinner for One

It has been a New Year’s tradition in Germany since 1972, and in other parts of Europe since then, including Austira, Switzerland, and as far as South Africa and Australia. It holds the Guinness World’s Record for most repeated single broadcast television show, and has a cult following across the world, although it is little-known in the United States. The full story of this wonderful sketch can be found here, but for now I present to you, “The 90th Birthday, or Dinner for One.” (The host begins in German, but the sketch itself is in English.)

Julbord – traditional Yule dishes

Of course Christmas itself has just passed (and I hope that those of you who celebrate it had a wonderful holiday, even if you only do so as a secular holiday of family, plenty, and generosity, with no religious overtones, like my family does), but the traditional date of Yule is still more than two weeks or so away, so we’re continuing to Make Yule Great Again here at the Garden.

This time, I would like to present a few traditional dishes for your Yule feast. Most are more modern Scandinavian dishes from the traditional julbord, or Christmas buffet.
Swedish meatballs. It’s not particularly a Yule dish, but come on. Can you really do a traditional Scandinavian buffet without them? Recipe here.
The Christmas ham. This is the centerpiece of the julbord; the ham, or julskinka, is first boiled, and then served cold, with a crust of mustard and breadcrumbs. Also note the continuing references to boars and pork (associated with the god Freyr) with the holiday. The Local (a Swedish news outlet) mentions that the pigs are killed on Lussinatta, at night. Recipe here.
Pickled herring. Pickled fish is a staple in Scandinavian countries as a rule, but it is especially brought out in the cold winter months, when fresh fish would be something of a rarity. Generally, this is something to be store bought, but the adventurous might try to make their own with the recipe here.
Lutefisk. Errr… yum?
Lutefisk. Take air-dried whitefish, soak it in lye and salt for days, and then rinse it off and cook it once it becomes gelatinous. I’ve never dared try it (and I eat just about anything) but it’s a staple in Norway and Sweden in the traditional Julbord, eaten with boiled potatoes. Want to make it? There’s a recipe here. Good luck Paisan!
Yule bread. A traditional Viking recipe, flavored with cardamom and almonds. Recipe here.
Norwegian Christmas Bread. Another recipe, almost akin to an English pudding rather than a bread, with raisins and walnuts. Recipe here.
Dopp i grytan. Called “dip in the pot” in English, this is a custom of dipping bread into the reduced juices used to cook the ham, like a fondue. I’ve never done it, but it sounds amazingly good. Recipe here.
Janssons Frestelse. If you want to get more adventurous than the boiled potatoes mentioned above (and nothing says you can’t do both!), try this sort of scalloped potato dish, with anchovies (I happen to love anchovies, and the thought of the salty fish mixed in with the creamy potatoes and onions sounds great). Recipe here
Marzipan Pig. Obviously a new addition to the menu, this dessert course made of shaped almond paste seems obviously tied back to the recurring themes of boars and Freyr and Yule. And isn’t the little apple in its mouth adorable? Marzipan recipe here.
Glad Yule to all!

Happy Life Day!

Well, it’s not quite Yule, but still…

The Big Day: Yule (Part Two)

Now we move on to the second day of Yule.

As we saw last year when I compared the traditions surrounding the feast of St. Stephen as celebrated in the North, there are a number of connections between the figure and the god Freyr, specifically the connection to both boars and horses. In England, St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses, also echoing the association of Freyr with horses, and an English folk-ballad about Stephen reinforces his connection with the boar’s head feast of Yule/Christmas:

“Stephen out of kitchen came,
With boarës head on hand,
He saw a star was fair and bright
Over Bethlehem stand.”

So on the one hand, we have the god Freyr, associated with a great Yuletide sacrifice and feast, associated with boars and horses. On the other hand, we have the “northern version” of St. Stephen, whose feast-day is during the Yuletide, and whose folk-tales are associated with boars and horses, which don’t appear in accounts of the saint elsewhere. So it seems reasonable to bring in those practices associated with St. Stephen’s Day in Scandinavia, on the assumption that the exclusively Northern attributes are, in fact, Heathen survivals of Freyr-cult activities associated with Yule.

Some interesting Swedish pieces of folklore from the 19th century conflate “St. Staffan” with the founder of the Archdiocese of Uppsala of the same name, where he is said to have been the first to preach the gospel there, and denounced its Heathen practices, only to be cast into prison and then escape to finally meet his fate as the Christian ur-martyr. While the echo of the association with Uppsala is interesting, much moreso is this legend that clearly relates St. Stephen to the god Freyr:

A saying is still common amongst the people, that once every week he visited them all, and proclaimed God’s word. In the performance of this duty, he folowed the course of the sun; so that in the morning he rode from Norrala, where he dwelt, passed the night at Arbrä, and from thence continued his journey to Järfsö, and Ljusdal, Sundhede, and Nordanstigen, and returned home within the above-named time*. 

Helsingland was in those days, as at present [1870] celebrated for its good horses, Staffan had a great love of horses, understood their treatment, and had always give with him wherever he went. When one was wearied he mounted another, and in this manner traversed the country. [He was killed by the Heathens and interred at Norrala.] 

For a long time after the martyr’s death, his friends and the Christians in the country were accustomed to meet at this his place of burial, which to them was looked on as holy, when they prayed together, and strengthened each other in faith and love. But when Christianity at a subsequent period began to lose its original simplicity and purity, the monks, profiting by the reverence the people entertained for the spot, seduced them by pretended miracles and prodigies to make offerings, and seek cures for diseased animals, especially horses, and also to worship St. Staffan, who, however, was never canonized, as their patron saint. (Peasant Life in Sweden, p. 204-6).

Here we see not only the association of “Staffan” with horses, but also an echo of the passage from Ynglingatal, which describes Freyr’s establishment of Uppsala as a cult center, and the continued worship he enjoyed at his burial mound after his death:

Frey built a great temple at Upsal, made it his chief seat, and gave it all his taxes, his land, and goods. Then began the Upsal domains, which have remained ever since.  Then began in his days the Frode- peace; and then there were good seasons, in all the land, which the Swedes ascribed to Frey, so that he was more worshiped than the other gods, as the people became much richer in his days by reason of the peace and good seasons. His wife was called Gerd, daughter of Gymis, and their son was called Fjolne.  Frey was called by another name, Yngve; and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honor, so that his descendants have since been called Ynglinger.  Frey fell into a sickness; and as his illness took the upper hand, his men took the plan of letting few approach him.  In the meantime they raised a great mound, in which they placed a door with three holes in it.  Now when Frey died they bore him secretly into the mound, but told the Swedes he was alive; and they kept watch over him for three years.  They brought all the taxes into the mound, and through the one hole they put in the gold, through the other the silver, and through the third the copper money that was paid. Peace and good seasons continued. (Ynglingatal chapter 11)

The key elements being the worship of Freyr/Staffan at his grave, specifically connected with the offering of money (the monks’ profit in the Staffan legend, and the taxes in the mound in Ynglingatal).

And there is also the tradition (as written in Ögmundar þáttr dytts) of the god Freyr going about on a peregrination, with a statue of the god being carried about in a wagon throughout the district, drawn by horses. Originally, the god Freyr traveled about in a horse-drawn wagon, and later on Staffan traveled about on horseback.

Suffice to say, I think the identification of the Northern Staffan/Steven with the Heathen Freyr is sound. That said, what does it mean? What sorts of practices do we see on St. Steven’s Day that might be applicable to Heathen worship? It turns out, there are quite a few, mostly involving horses, as one might expect.

One cares for the horses of some stranger in some not-close village, or even another parish; grooming, feeding, watering, rubbing down, etc. The deed is expected to be repaid with a fine breakfast.

Horses are given the leftover ale from the previous night, and bled in order to make them healthy (bleeding was regarded as a healing practice at the time).

A procession, known as Staffanskede, is also undertaken, where mounted youths take off before dawn and go from village to village in a sort of race, singing the Staffansvisa from house to house, in return for which they are to be treated to ale:

The custom recalls other visiting traditions, such as caroling, wassailing and the like. The Swedish lyrics of the carol can be found here. If I find an English translation, I’ll post it as well. But I must say I like the music; it’s quite haunting in this rendition.

On the evening of St. Staffan’s Day, there are games, music, dancing, and of course more feasting.Lloyd also tells us of a custom involving bringing in a Jul Baske; what we now know as a Christmas Tree.

This, then, is the second of the three days of Yule. Horse-racing, visiting and caroling, feasting and dancing and music.

And the third? I think we found the third day of Yule in our exploration of St. Knut’s Day. The last of the food is eaten and drink is guzzled, the decorations are taken down, there is guising in spirit-costume to scare the neighbors, and a ritual drama is enacted to cap the celebration.

When the Yule celebration was merged with the Christmas holiday, it necessarily lost two of its three days (but Christmas itself was extended into twelve, to match their obsession with the number, between Christmas and Epiphany, and since become our Twelve Days of Christmas). What was Knut’s Day, until it was moved yet again to prevent confusion with the “more important” dates of the Christian calendar. The third day of Yule.

And there we have the cycle of holidays leading up to Yule. I may well have a few more posts on specific topics (because even with all this, I’ve only scratched the surface), but I think we have a very solid foundation for a plethora of celebrations designed to discourage disobedient children and reward the good, mark the triumph of the sun over the longest night of the year, the changing of the year itself, and the middle of the winter season as people experienced it.

I personally think that’s a whole lot more worthy of celebration than cramming everything into a single day. Our gods and ancestors deserve a lot more.

* It should be noted that all the places named are in or near Gävleborg County, Sweden, just north of Uppsala, which largely overlaps Halsingland. We’re talking about a very small district within modern Sweden, which just happens to be just north of the highest concentration of Freyr-related place-names in Sweden, around Uppsala.

The Big Day: Yule (Part One)

What a wealth of winter traditions we’ve uncovered so far, leading up to Yule:

  • A week before the longest night of the year, also the start of the old Heathen month of Mörsugur (“marrow-sucking”), we see Krampusnacht, originally connected with the story of the laming of Thor’s goats. Thor and the goats visit homes, punishing naughty children and rewarding good ones. 
  • On the longest night of the year, we have Lussinatta, where the goddess Frigg visits homes to make sure they are prepared for the long cold winter, the Wild Hunt begins its ride, and an all-night vigil is held to welcome the return of the goddess Sunna and celebrate her return to strength as the days begin to grow longer.
  • A week after the solstice, we have a reminder that the Yule Ale had better be brewing, because if it’s not started by now, it’ll be too late for Yule. 
  • On New Year’s Eve, we have Mothers Night, when the Three Mothers (aka the Norns) are invited to our homes with a feast, in return for their favor in the coming year. It’s also a good night for divination, to foresee the coming year’s events.
  • On New Year’s Day, we have a number of customs and traditions around the Calends of January, which sets the tone for the entire year to come. First-stepping, New Year’s wishes and resolutions, marking the weather, setting up effigies of livestock and game animals to ensure prosperity, as well as donning animal guises for the same purpose, and more are all designed to influence the luck of the coming year.

And now we come to the mid-winter sacrifice and celebration itself; Yule. Specifically, sónarblót, or “Son’s sacrifice” (which is interesting to contrast to Mothers’ Night earlier), which takes place on the first night of Yule. The practice is specifically described in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (ch. 10):

Ok skyldi þeim gelti blóta at sónarblóti. Jólaaptan skyldi leiða sónargöltinn í höll fyrir konúng; lögðu menn þá hendr yfir burst hans ok strengja heit.

And they would sacrifice a boar in the sonarblót. On Yule Eve (i.e., the first evening of Yule) the sonar-boar was led into the hall before the king; then people laid their hands on its bristles and made vows.

It is also mentioned in one of the poems of the Poetic Edda, Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar (IV):

Heðinn fór einn saman heim ór skógi jólaaftan ok fann trollkonu. Sú reið vargi ok hafði orma at taumum ok bauð fylgð sína Heðni. “Nei,” sagði hann. Hon sagði: “Þess skaltu gjalda at bragarfulli.” Um kveldit óru heitstrengingar. Var fram leiddr sónargöltr. Lögðu menn þar á hendr sínar ok strengðu menn þá heit at bragarfulli. 

Returning home alone from the forest on a Yule Eve, Hedin met a troll-wife riding on a wolf, with serpents for reins, who offered to attend him, but he declined her offer; whereupon she said: “Thou shalt pay for this at the council.” In the evening solemn vows were made, and the son-hog was led forth, on which the guests laid their hands, and then made solemn vows at the council. 

This recalls very strongly the English tradition (since exported to the United States and elsewhere) of the Boar’s Head Feast, where the cooked and garlanded head of a boar is brought into the hall to inaugurate the celebration, accompanied by specific carols, dating back to at least the 15th century (although the ceremony itself goes back to at least 1340):

The association of the boar with both Freyr and Yule is well-known. Freyr is said to ride a golden-haired boar, named gullinbursti (“golden-bristles”). and feasts of pork around the solstice (originally associated with Yule, and transferred to the new Christmas holiday) were traditional well into the Christian era. In modern Sweden, boar-shaped cakes are a traditional Christmas dish, and Christmas Ham is a staple across Scandinavia. Even as late as the 18th century, December 17th was called Sow Day in the Orkneys, and the best sow of the herd would be slaughtered (add 8 days for the calendar conversion, and Sow Day becomes Christmas Day, upon which Yule traditions were mapped during the conversion process, as we have seen).

The winter solstice sacrifice was associated with the god Freyr. According to Ynglinga Saga (ch. 8), the mid-winter, or Yule, sacrifice was made “for a good crop”:

Þá skyldi blóta í móti vetri til árs, en at miðjum vetri blóta til gróðrar, hit þriðja at sumri, þat var sigrblót.

On winter day there should be blood-sacrifice for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third sacrifice should be on summer day, for victory in battle.

Remembering that “the middle of winter” here is describing the actual climactic winter, not the astronomical solstice, which in reality happens way before the point where there are as many colder days behind it as ahead of it. So, approximately the middle of what we call January.

While Gylfaginning (ch. 24) makes it plain that it is in fact Freyr to whom such supplications for good harvests were made:

Freyr er inn ágætasti af ásum. Hann ræðr fyrir regni ok skini sólar ok þar með ávexti jarðar, ok á hann er gott at heita til árs ok friðar. Hann ræðr ok fésælu manna. 

Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men. 

And that, I think, is the kick-off of the three-day Yule celebration. We have the “son’s sacrifice” on the first night, of a boar or swine, in honor of Freyr, accompanied by a great feast, and specifically the swearing of oaths on the head or body of the sacrificial animal.

In modern practical terms, when most Asatruar don’t have it within their means to sacrifice an actual boar, it seems clear that at least featuring pork (as the famous Christmas Ham of Scandinavia, or in some other form) would be indicated. A ceremony involving the swearing of oaths would also seem to be a critical piece of the celebration (again, setting the stage for the coming year with events happening near its start); I might go so far as to roast a swine head specifically for the occasion, even if it didn’t necessarily form part of the feast itself. In my own tribe, we use a pig effigy made of straw, and make our promises and state our hopes upon it, before offering it to Freyr.

The only mystery, to my mind, is the significance of the name of the sacrifice. I might have expected something like Jólablót, but it turns out that the word doesn’t exist in Cleasby-Vigfussion’s dictionary of Old Icelandic. So why sónarblót? Why “son’s sacrifice”? I think I might have an idea.

Yngve-Freyr is said to have been the progenitor of the Swedish line. His name appears in the royal lineages, he founded Uppsala, most of the place-names associated with him are found in Sweden (in and around Uppsala, as a matter of fact), and is even referred to as the father of the Swedes:

Shall it be said of Frey’s brave sons,
The kingly race, the noble ones,
That they have fought in deadly battle
With the head-gear of their cattle?
(Ynglingatal 23)

It’s purely speculative, of course, but it seems to fit the available information. I’ll keep digging, and if I unearth additional information, I’ll certainly pass it along. But it seems to point to the Yule sacrifice to Freyr as being particularly ancient, and eventually disseminating across the Norse world, only to be co-opted by the incoming Christian empire.

Why did Snorri pick those myths?

During last night’s Asatru 101 class, which was covering much of the Yule information I’ve been presenting here over the last few weeks, one of the attendees asked a very insightful question in regards to my connecting the myth of Thor’s goats with the celebration of Krampusnacht.

I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like “Do you think Snorri wrote that down in order to explain to his audience why people did that celebration the way they did?”

I think it’s a spiffy question, and certainly deserves a lot more study. I know that Gylfaginning, where the myth originates, covers a lot of ground, but I’d love to go through it, itemize the various myths contained therein, and see if there isn’t a pattern between the specific myths he chose, and various things that were going around him in the 13th century that he felt needed explaining.

Obviously, some of the myths he chose were fundamentals; the creation of the world, the names and natures of the gods, etc. But I wonder if a pattern can’t be discerned from the specific myths that he felt were worthy of inclusion in Gylfaginning. After all, Skaldskaparmal was written specifically to explain poetic kennings. Is it so hard to imagine that parts of Gylfaginning were written specifically to explain folk celebrations, the original reasons for which were largely forgotten by his time?

More to come. I suspect this may be a fruitful line of inquiry.

Welcome Yule Lads!

(This is a repost from 2015)

Today marks the arrival of the first of the Yule-lads (IS jólasveinarnir); mischievous spirits who arrive one per day for the next twelve days, and each stays for exactly thirteen days, so on the 25th of December, they’re all present. They are the sons of the Icelandic trolls Grýla and Leppalúði, and each has a specific attribute.

Of course, in modern times their hard edges have been smoothed over, and they’re seen as mostly-benevolent, Santa-like figures, but all the good wishes in the world won’t change the fundamental nature of a wight. They’re basically cautionary tales for children, as they would come out of the mountains and glaciers to frighten naughty children during the Yuletide.

Now that I’ve seen this story about a woman in Peoria who has the Yule Lads on her lawn as decorations (much like Christians might have a nativity), I want a set of my own for next year!
So today, watch out for Stekkjarstaur, and keep your sheep safe.

St. Knut’s Day

Mother’s Night and the New Year behind us, we find ourselves more than two weeks from the solstice, and a week before Yule itself. We now find ourselves at St. Knut’s Day, which is celebrated in Sweden and Finland, but not Denmark or Norway. The timing of this feast day deserves a little attention, as it’s got a somewhat involved history. The day is named for Knut Levard of Denmark, who was killed in a civil war and canonized in 1169. It should be noted that that is a pretty late date, and well into the era of Christianization.

Originally, Knut’s Day was celebrated on January 7, the anniversary of his death. In the 17th century, it was moved to the 13th of January, presumably because it was interfering with the celebration of the Epiphany on the 6th. I’m going to ignore that later date, because it is way outside my era of interest for this analysis, and has little if any significance when it comes to replacing already-established Heathen celebrations. 
Dancing around the soon-to-be-taken-down tree
Traditionally, Knut’s Day represents the end of the Christmas season in Sweden and Finland. There are “plundering parties” as the Christmas tree is taken down and the edible ornaments that traditionally adorn it (candies, cookies, and cakes) are removed and devoured. 
More interesting, perhaps, is a tradition that is akin to our modern Halloween, where children and adults go from house to house in scary costumes of ghosts and scarecrows, attempting to frighten neighbors and friends.
There is dancing, and what has been described by L. Lloyd in his “Peasant Life in Sweden… Illustrated” (written in 1870, pp. 217-218) as:

…”Gästabuds-Krig,” or war of hospitality. The master of the house comes into the apartment where the “Jul” festivities have taken place, and affixes his axe into the middle of the floor; the housemaid follows him with a broom, the kitchen-maid with a knife and a spoon, or rather ladle, the “Källare Drang,” or tapster, he whose duty it is to look after the cellar, with the spigot of the ale barrel, with other like company, and makes pretense to drive away the guests, and should there be any present who can read and sing, they read aloud King Orre’s Legend, and sing his ballad, the words of which I have not at hand, but which in some degree resemble our own doggerel:

“Old King Cole
Was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe,
And he called for his wine,
And he called for his fiddlers three.”

Scary costumes for guising on the day,
with some similarity to the guising
done at the beginning of the season
on Krampusnacht
And presumably the plundering of the pantry of the last edibles that were cooked and baked and brewed for the Yule celebration would be polished off by the guests.
One fascinating tidbit, the “King Orre’s Legend” mentioned above is also mentioned in a tantilizing tidbit from Bertha Fillpott’s most excellent The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama (p. 123):

It has recently been suggested that the dramatic Yule game in Sweden in which “King Orre” figures originated in a representation of the defeat of King Erik of Pomerania.

With a footnote referencing “H Jungner, Om Kung Orre, Maal og Minne, 1914, pp. 123 ff” that I have been unable to follow-up on. Anyone able to help track that reference down is invited to contact me in the comments below. Sounds fascinating.
Terry Gunnell, in his Origins of Drama in Scandinavia (pp. 96-97), adds a little more meat to Knut and Orre’s bones:

The superficial nature of some of the Christian festivals is especially clear in the case of the figure of Knut, since the saint obviously never had anything to do with ‘sweeping’ or ‘knocking out’ Christmas. Magnus Olsen has thus sought to establish an early relationship between the traditional figure of Knut and other figures such as the legendary King Orre, and the spirit of Þorri, a personification of the early Scandinavian fourth winter month beginning c. 13 January. Considering the fact that Knut is often acted in folk tradition, it might be noted that both Knut and Þorri are identified in the rhymes sung about them by the same sole characteristic of a beard. A faint possibility exists that this shared feature has roots in a visual tradition of disguise which originally applied to both figures at this time of year. The vestiges of such a tradition might possibly be found in the unique account given by Jón Árnason of how Icelandic farmers used to ‘welcome Þorri onto the farm’ (‘að bjóða Þorra í garð’) by hopping around their farms half-dressed on the first morning of Þorri, their wives following suit the first morning of Góa, the following month.

I still want to know exactly what goes on with this acted-out Knut folk tradition (other than apparently an elder version of the Polar Bear Challenge). To the BOOKS!
So, to bring this all back to the subject at hand, all we need to do is make our standard 8 day correction for dates, because of the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, and I think we have the answer to all this mummery. Adjust 8 days from the original date of January 7, and we get January 15. Right around the middle of winter. 
A day or two after Yule.
I think what we see in Knut’s Day are the events of the end of Yule. Exact dates are of course fungible when it comes to the ancient calendars, but I think what we’re seeing here are the equivalent of modern “Boxing Day” traditions. The last of the food prepared for Yule needs to get eaten, the decorations need to be taken out, and, let us not forget, this also marks the end of the “out and about” time for the Wild Hunt, which began waaaay back on Lussinata, on the solstice. That’s combined in a visiting tradition involving scary costumes; made all the more relevant by the fact that there’s still excess treats to be handed out (in the “war of hospitality”), and the gag is all the funnier because everyone knows that the Wild Hunt isn’t out and about after Yule. 
Man, this really works.
We’ve been circling the big one for a while now, but we’re homing in on Yule itself. We’re getting there, dear readers, have just a little more patience!

Is Christmas Pagan?

So over at Renew America, one Gina Miller (not the woman who sued the UK to try to prevent the Brexit being implemented, as far as I can tell) has an article up proclaiming loudly that Christmas is not pagan or ‘holiday’ (sic). Let’s take a walk through this together, shall we? (I’m quoting the whole thing below, in the interests of not wanting to have anything taken out of context. I’m sweet that way.)

Each year around this time, in Facebook posts and elsewhere, we are certain to be lectured by well-meaning Christians on the “sinfulness” of celebrating Christmas. Their arguments can be persuasive. “In the Bible, God never told us to celebrate Christmas,” they say. “Christmas has its roots in paganism,” they say. So that must mean we’re just dupes celebrating a pagan ritual when we ignorantly think we’re gratefully celebrating the birth of Jesus. Who wants to celebrate what God never told us to celebrate and which supposedly has its roots in paganism? Not me! But are those things really true?

Since Mrs. Miller doesn’t actually link to any examples of people saying this, it’s difficult to suss out whether this is actually happening. It would have been nice, and unfortunately without something specific for her to be chewing on, this has the look of a straw man. Fortunately, Google is a fine mistress, and I was able to quickly find a few examples of the question of whether or not Christmas is Pagan, from good, upstanding Christian ministries and groups; should be easy to find the sorts of Christians that Mrs. Miller is talking about, right? Let’s take a quick look:

I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year. Keep in mind that the whole principle of annual festival and celebration is deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, for example, there were times when God emphatically commanded the people to remember certain events with annual celebrations. 

This much we know: Before there was December 25, there was January 6. As early as the second century, Christians celebrated Jesus’ appearance at the Jordan and his baptism by John on January 6. Some time later they expanded this festival to include Christ’s appearance at birth. Christians called it Epiphany, or manifestation. So the meaning of the first Christmas was not pagan; it was a celebration of the Word manifest in flesh.

We’re not celebrating a pagan holiday because the pagan holiday was the saturnal and we’re not worshipping the god of Saturn, or whatever the content was.  We are not doing that.  If you listen to the words of the song “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,” the original was written with the Christmas tree being a type of Jesus Christ.  You look at the words and the gospel is in the words of the Christmas tree.  So this is not a Christmas tree that we’re putting in our house as an idol to some tree god, or something like that.  No, this is a tree that we are using as a cultural expression that can be invested with religious meaning for the Christian.  

Oh, hmmm… Maybe it’s not so easy after all.

Heh… I’m just having a bit of fun; I do know there are Christians out there who don’t like Christmas and condemn it as Pagan. But they’re not the majority, by a long shot. And in fairness, they’re not complaining about the holiday; they’re complaining about the trappings and customs that have been attached to it (more about that later). But finding pro-Christian stuff was a lot easier. Goodwife Miller continues.

While there is no specific instruction in the Bible to honor or celebrate the birth of Jesus each year (and no, of course we don’t know the actual date of His birth), neither is there any prohibition of it.

REALLY??? Is a committed conservative Christian actually making an argument that, “if it’s not specifically prohibited in the Bible, it’s okay to do”??? ‘Cause I’m very sure there isn’t any “thou shalt not commit abortion” or “thou shalt not have gender reassignment surgery” or “thou shalt not have sex wearing a Pikachu costume” passages in there.

The Bible says this is okey-dokey!

Interestingly, there really is a concrete Biblical prohibition on one cherished Christmas custom:

2 Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

But as for using the literal words of the Bible as a guide to what one is and is not allowed (or compelled) to do, I’ll leave it to Jed Bartlet to have the final word:

But I digress. Gentlewoman Miller continues…

Further, when you read the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, it is clear that heaven and earth celebrated that miraculous event. Can you imagine the breathtaking awe felt by those humble shepherds at the sight of the multitude of heavenly host praising God on that powerful, wonderful occasion?

Well… no. Your Bible does say:

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So a bunch of angels appeared in the desert, and the shepherds looked around and said “WTF just happened?” but nothing about heaven and earth celebrating what happened. Again, since Mrs. Miller doesn’t provide any passages to back up her assertion, it’s hard to tell. Maybe she’s thinking of Luke 19:40 (which has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, by the way)???

I can think of nothing more worthy of annual remembrance and celebration than the birth of Christ, alongside the celebration of His resurrection from the dead (the supposed “paganism” about which we are also lectured by those same well-meaning Christians. “The root word for Easter is the name of a pagan goddess!” they say). These events are part of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Well, the word Easter does come from the Old English word Eostre, which was, according to Bede, a Heathen goddess. So… yeah. That’s probably why different languages have different words for things, and many languages call Easter a variety of different words related to the Hebrew word for Passover, “Pesach”. English being a Germanic language and all…

But I think this is at the heart of the problem with Mrs. Miller’s article. She is confusing the complaints about customs, language, dates, and the like, with the significance of the holiday in the Christian religion. Legitimate complaints about those things don’t necessarily mean they are complaining about the Christian symbolism associated with the holiday.

I submit to you that the truth is the opposite of these assertions of paganism. The claims that the pagan rituals in which Christmas (and Easter) supposedly are based pre- date Jesus’ birth, earthly ministry, sacrifice and resurrection from the dead are wrong. Nothing “pre-dates” Jesus. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is outside of time, because He is before time. All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing – nothing – was made. He is God. His willing sacrifice to save the world was set and planned before the dawn of time and creation of the world.

Well, that’s a nice (and conveniently self-serving) theory, but just saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.

Fortunately, we have history, and archaeology, and historiography, and all the other branches of science to tell us that yes, things did happen prior to 4 BCE, when your savior-god was supposedly born. Time being linear (even if events do move in great cyclical patterns), are you actually saying that Satan literally has the power to see the future?

Let’s see a quote stating that in your Bible. Somewhere near the back, maybe?

Dame Miller continues.

All pagan (satanic) rituals, “holidays” and celebrations throughout history are nothing more than cheap imitation knock-offs of the Real Thing. Satan has always tried to set himself in the place of Jesus, to be the object of worship. Before being cast to earth, he tried the same thing in heaven. To this end, he has created myriad false religions and rituals, from blatantly pagan to sneaky, fake “Christian.” Not only are these designed for Satan to soak up men’s worship, but also to deceive men and keep them from coming to a saving knowledge of Truth found only in the Word of God.

Except, of course, that there were religions before Christianity. Heck, there were religions before Judaism, which is the spiritual basis for Christianity. Unless she’s saying that Satan founded the Egyptian religion millennia before there even was a Jewish or Hebrew people? Or perhaps he was responsible for Neanderthals worshiping the skulls of animals, or burying their dead with horns? Because that’s religion, too, and it way predates that sorry patchwork you call a faith.

In so many different ways, since the fall of man in the Garden, the devil has deceptively imitated and mocked Christ’s ministry and message, even before they played out in time. So, no, the celebration of the birth of Christ – that we call Christmas – does not have its roots in paganism. It’s the other way around. Satan has always stolen the ideas he has from Christ’s truth, and then he twists and perverts that truth into lies and grotesque wickedness.

So… Satan can see into the future. And then arrange things so that he can create things that presage that future, but… not. Gods, this is as absurd as Satan planting fossils in the ground, or arranging photons in space so they happen to hit the Earth at exactly the right instant so as to give the illusion that the universe is more than six thousand years old. And Yahweh lets him! Her god is either a sadistic fuck who enjoys seeing the humans he supposedly loves being conned, or, well, not quite what he’s been cracked up to be.

Another point to consider is the fact that the world, currently under Satan’s lordship, despises and reviles all things of God and Christ.

But wait. Isn’t Mrs. Miller in the world, too? And of it, because she’s got a physical form (I assume; otherwise how could she hit the keys on the keyboard?) Doesn’t that make her a vassal of Satan?

Thus, we see Satan’s war on Christmas, waged by his servants the God-haters among us. If Christmas was truly based in satanic paganism, don’t you think the devil would be fine with its presence in the public square?

Oh, the “war on Christmas” canard. I was waiting for this one. How successful it has been, too. Why, the padlocking of church doors on December 24th has been a staple of our society for years. The postal service, pressed into service, routinely opens up cards throughout December, gainfully employing hordes of people with Sharpies to cross out the word “Christmas” and replace it with “Holidays”. There’s nary a mention of Christmas in print, or radio, or television.

It’s almost enough to make you wish there were churches on every corner. But those were bulldozed years ago in preparation for the final assault on Christmas.

Christianity has a collective martyr complex, but in the absence of real persecution, they seem to feel compelled to invent it. “My cashier didn’t say “Merry Christmas”! I’m just as oppressed as Christians who are killed in Somalia!”

Instead, we now see almost every major corporation aggressively scrubbing even the mention of Christmas from their businesses and advertising.

Indeed. Like A.C. Moore, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Belk, Best Buy, Bronners, CVS Pharmacy, Dillards, Hallmark, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, JC Penny, K-Mart, Kohl’s, Lehmans, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Menards, Neiman Marcus, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Sears, Staples, Toys R Us, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart. All of whom appear on the “nice list” published by the Liberty Counsel.

It’s irksome to see the ridiculous level this corporate purging of Christmas has reached. Having been in radio for 22 years, I’ve watched as the generic word “holiday” has slowly replaced Christmas in national radio ads. It would be silly if it weren’t so devilish:
“This holiday, give the gift your sweetheart wants!” “Make your holiday cards special!” “Find all your holiday gifts in one location!” “Do your holiday shopping with us, and save!” “We have the perfect holiday gifts at prices you’ll love!”

I know it shouldn’t come as a surprise to squaw Miller, but there are other religions out there, that are just as legitimate, and legally protected, as hers is. And most, if not all, of them have holidays clustered around the winter solstice. Not to mention the entirely secular holiday of New Year’s. And as the population of the United States (and the West in general) has slowly shifted away from Christianity to other faiths, or no faith, or a mushy “spiritual but not religious”-osity (ugh), the assumption that any given person will be Christian. Saying “Happy holidays” or advertising “holiday gifts” is simply safer for retailers who want to make the maximum number of potential customers feel welcome.

It’s not “holiday.” It’s Christmas.

…and Diwali, and Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve/Day, and Yule, and Kwanzaa, and Saturnalia, and Zartosht No-Diso, and Festivus, and Korochun, and Hogmanay, and dozens more. Christianity is not the only religion out there, and retailers would be idiots for not wanting to reach out to the 30% of Americans who aren’t Christian.

No one sends out “holiday cards.” They send out Christmas cards.

See above.

No one does their “holiday shopping.” They do their Christmas shopping. No one gives “holiday gifts.” They give Christmas gifts. 

See above. Lots of midwinter festivals have gift exchange traditions. In fact, the tradition started with Roman Saturnalia and Norse Jól.

This is yet another example of the world doing its worst to obliterate even the mention of Christ – in this case, as it appears in the word Christmas.

No, this is an example of the world being inhabited by a majority of people that aren’t Christian, and don’t want to follow your insipid sexually repressive death-cult.

The giant corporations are glad to scrub Christmas from their advertising, but boy do they love to load up on national “holiday” ads in order to separate you from your Christmas cash!

Yeahhhhh, about that…

Christmas is not pagan, and it’s not “holiday.” It is part of the greatest True Story in the history of stories. How fortunate we are that God so loved the world! Jesus, stepped down from the glory of His heavenly throne and into the form of man. He was born into the world He loved so much that He willingly offered His precious, sinless life in place of ours, and all we have to do is believe and accept His free gift salvation.

Yeah, yeah. We’ve all seen The Little Drummer Boy. Your religion’s midwinter myth has been shoved down out throats on national television for decades (how’s that for being oppressed!). Doesn’t make it true.

For those well-meaning Christians who deeply believe celebrating Christmas is wrong, an offense to God, then for them, it is wrong. Let every man be convinced in his heart. But, for those of us who view it as the celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, then let us celebrate it with joy and thanks to God.

And here, I think, is the fundamental disconnect, and why frau Miller would have been much better served to pick a few concrete examples, rather than the straw man she ended up arguing against.

On one level, I actually agree with her. The celebration of the birth of their savior-god is absolutely a Christian thing, and there’s nothing wrong with Christians doing so. The date may or may not have been selected to coincide with a couple of Pagan Roman celebrations, but who cares? Christians can choose dates for their holidays like anyone else.

However, it should also be noted that modern (and historical) Christmas celebrations have accumulated enormous Pagan and Heathen customs over the years, many of which I’ve detailed (and will continue to detail) here on the blog as the Yuletide season continues. In fact, I hate to say it, but Jason Mankey has outlined the Christian and Pagan provenance of a host of modern Christmas customs and symbols, and done a very good job of it (I might quibble on the edges here and there, but it’s a good piece overall). I daresay when people write against Christians celebrating Christmas, they’re really referring to the Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Wassailing, drinking and overeating in general, commercialism in general, St. Lucia, Rudolf, Yule Logs, and on and on and on. And maybe they have a point, if one is so wrapped up in the Bible as to want to purge from one’s life anything that doesn’t come out of Leviticus.

The other problem with her analysis is the blind willful refusal to acknowledge that any other religion besides Christianity exists, let alone that all of them have holidays around this same time of year, that the United States is becoming steadily less Christian, even if she might not like that fact, and businesses want to try to sell goods to as many people as possible. It just makes sense to market to a full third of the population who don’t happen to share her faith, even if “holidays” becomes a handy shortcut to do so.

Merry Christmas!

And a glad Yule to you, too.

Why end with this? WHY THE HEL NOT???

Mother’s Night

This is a follow-up (and correction) to last year’s post about Mother’s Night. Additionally, it will be something of an addendum to my post on New Year’s Traditions a few days ago, which sort of conflated New Year’s Eve with New Year’s Day. Properly, they should be separate, as we shall see.

Just to lay out the evidence that had been previously presented, we have:

  • The Feast of the Parcae is attested to in the contemporary penitential sources around the time of Yule (I had originally said “beginning of Yule” but that seems to be not the case)
  • The Matronae (“Mothers” – triple goddesses worshiped in the Migration Era) are associated with fate, life, death, and abundance, thus connected with the individual Norns
  • Mothers’ Night is attested to in the works of the Venerable Bede around the beginning of Yule
  • The Feast of the Parcae becomes the Feast of the Mothers
Let’s turn to the sources.
Burchard of Worms tells us what not to do with the Parcae:

Hast thou done as some women are wont to do at certain times of the year? That is, hast thou prepared the table in thy house and set on the table thy food and drink, with three knives, that if those three sisters whom past generations and old-time foolishness called the Fates [“parcae”] should come they may take refreshment there… those whom thou callest “the sisters” can do or avail aught for thee either now or in the future? (Corrector, 153)

Gimme that old-time foolishness!
And what might those “certain times of the year” be? Our old friend St. Eligius comes to the rescue:

 …nothing is ominous or ridiculous about the Calends of January. [Do not] make little women [i.e., corn dollies], little deer or iotticos or set tables at night [for house spirits or the Mothers] or exchange New Years’ gifts or supply superfluous drinks. (Life of Saint Eligius)

Bernadette Filotas puts it:

In another clause [of the Corrector of Burchard] the Parcae seem less ominous: “certain women” at “certain times of the year” (the New Year?) were accustomed to try to bribe “those three sisters whom ancient tradition and ancient stupidity named the Parcae.” They set a table in their house with food, drink, and three “little knives” for the sisters’ refreshment, in the hope that if they came, they would help their hostess either at present or in the future: “thus they attribute to the devil the power that belongs to merciful God.” Here the Parcae appear to be less figures of pitiless destiny than sprites, small ones at that who can handle only “little” implements, and who make their way into the house but seldom (but in medieval Latin, the diminutive was often used to indicate contempt, not necessarily to refer to size). The identification with the classical goddesses is made by Burchard, not the common people. (Pagan Survivals; Superstitions and Popular Cultures, p. 77)

Bede fills in more information with his description:

… began the year on the 8th calends of January, when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night. (Faith Wallis, tr., 1999)

What the heck is “the 8th calends of January”, you might ask? In the original Latin, one counts from the start of the next month, in the latter half of the month. So the 8th calends of  January is December 24. And in the Germanic mindset, the date starts at dusk. What we would call the evening of December 23.

But… let’s correct for the change in calendars. If we add the 8 days we’ve been using as a corrector between the Julian and Gregorian dates, we get… December 31. New Year’s eve.

So where I had Mother’s Night on the night of the solstice, it seems to be more properly put on December 31. Not related to the calendar date, or the Christian date of the Christmas celebration, but on the very day that we now celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Thus do I think that the Feast of the Mothers, known to Bede as Mōdraniht, is more properly placed on New Year’s Eve, rather than the night of the winter solstice. It has the double-meaning, then, with the night in question being the “mother” of the New Year, as well as being that time when the Three Mothers (aka the Norns) are honored and given a feast in hopes that they will be well-disposed towards we mortals.

I covered the significance of the “little deer” in the New Year’s Customs post, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that the “little women”, or corn dollies, are very possibly images of the Three Mothers themselves, possibly even set at the table to stand in for, or encourage, the participation of the real thing, in much the same way that we use god-posts and statues to represent the real gods.

So there we are; New Year’s Eve is Mother’s Night. Set out a meal for the Three Mothers, with three knives, that they will visit your home and bestow fortune for the coming year. It fits together perfectly.

HELPFUL PLANNING TIP: Get a copy of Chase Hill’s song “Mother, Listen”, off their CD “Sing the Sun’s Return” (accompanying booklet with music and lyrics available here). Also, start planning on a feast for the Mothers on New Year’s Eve. Do it in style!

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